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HART board meeting delayed amid leadership tension

HONOLULU — The discussion over Lori Kahikina’s position as the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s top executive was delayed another week after technical difficulties halted two HART board meetings Friday morning.

The meetings — poised to address HART’s future leadership and the design and construction of the final, third leg of the nearly $10 billion Skyline project to Kakaako by 2031 — were delayed until Friday(June 28) to comply with open government laws, according to Cindy Matsushita, the HART board’s executive officer.

“The HART Project Oversight Committee and Board of Directors meetings were canceled today due to a technical audio issue, in order to ensure transparency, full public access and compliance with the Sunshine Law,” she told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser via email.

The delay comes as issues persist over HART’s embattled Executive Director and CEO Kahikina and her $275,000 a year contract, which is set to expire Dec. 31.

Led by Chair Colleen Hanabusa, the HART board of director’s review of Kahi­kina’s contract has not occurred, despite the item being on the agenda multiple times of past board meetings this year.

The delay also comes as the Federal Transit Administration, which in 2023 released $125 million in federal funds to HART for the first time since 2017, raised concerns over the uncertainty of the rail agency’s leadership.

In early June, FTA told the Star-Advertiser that leadership uncertainty at HART could jeopardize another $250 million in federal money.

And allegations of Hana­busa’s “bullying and harassment” of Kahikina eventually prompted Mayor Rick Blangiardi, who appointed Kahikina to HART’s leadership post in 2021, to issue a memo in early June, urging the board to offer his appointee a multiyear contract.

The mayor also requested HART fully cooperate with an investigation into any alleged harassment of Kahi­kina by board members.

Board member and Kahikina-supporter Natalie Iwasa, speaking in her individual capacity, said delaying Friday’s meeting was warranted, “as that appeared to be the best option for full transparency.”

“All meeting materials and testimonies from today are planned to be discussed next Friday,” she told the Star-Advertiser via email.

Next week’s meeting may include discussion of Kahi­kina’s contract, though that item could possibly be a closed-door executive session.

“My hope is that the contract issue will be discussed in open session,” Iwasa said.

On June 7, HART’s Human Resources Committee delayed a decision on Kahikina’s future at the agency so the full board could review written testimony from current and former employees in expectation to discuss that information in executive session.

Publicly, HART received unanimous support for Kahikina in written and live testimony, including from contractors and employees.

Praise for Kahikina included that she changed HART’s culture, meeting regularly with vendors and contractors to hear their concerns and explain issues at HART, empowering employees, and representing “the epitome” of a strong female CEO.

But in the executive session, committee members received written statements critical of Kahikina from 10 other former and current employees.

On Tuesday, Kahikina submitted a letter to the HART board in response to the comments that the Human Resources Committee received.

Among other things, the critics alleged that Kahikina created and fostered a toxic work environment that resulted in low morale and affected the health of some workers.

In her letter, Kahikina wanted a fuller disclosure, “Because of the apparent significance of these 10 testimonies, I requested … that information be provided to me regarding the content of this testimony in sufficient detail such that I can fairly respond.

“If this testimony is to be a determining factor in the decision about my employment, I should have the opportunity to understand it and to respond to it,” she wrote.

And as far as creating “a toxic work environment that has resulted in low morale and affecting the health of some employees,” her letter states, “this comment is very subjective and is too vague to fairly address.”

“I also think it is unfair for a few past or present employees to take their personal feelings and extend those feelings to other employees. I have never been told that the health of employees has been affected in this way,” her letter states. “Other current employees obviously disagree as several employees have submitted unsolicited, positive written and oral testimony to the board.”
Source: The Garden Island

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